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ATVs are Not for Children: AAP Urges These Safety Rules

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You don't see them just on farms anymore. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are popular among outdoor enthusiasts of all ages who ride them through trails, fields and off-highway vehicle parks.

The four-wheeled motorized vehicles require skill and quick thinking. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 16―who are too young to have a driver's license―should not be allowed to operate or ride off-road vehicles.

Children are involved in about 30% of all ATV-related deaths and emergency room-treated injuries.

With technological advances, ATVs are becoming bigger and faster. While this increases the vehicles' "thrill factor," it also creates the potential for more traumatic accidents. The most common types of ATV injuries are bumps, bruises and fractures, but more serious injuries also occur. Injuries to the spine and pelvis often result from rollovers. Concussions and other head injuries also are common, especially if the rider was not wearing a helmet.

In 2015, at least 73 children younger than 16 died and 26,700 were seriously injured by ATVs.

"More kids die on ATVs than die from bicycle crashes," said Charles Jennissen, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician and safety expert who studies ATV injuries and deaths in children. 

More than half of ATV deaths occur on public roadways. Despite their name, ATVs are not safe on all terrains. They have a high center of gravity and off-road tires that unevenly grab paved or gravel road surfaces.

If you do allow your children under age 16 to ride an ATV, the AAP urges you to follow these safety rules:

  • Riders should always wear motorcycle-style helmets that are approved by the Department of Transportation, eye protection, sturdy shoes (no flip-flops), and protective, reflective clothing. Appropriate helmets are those designed for motorcycle (not bicycle) use and should include safety visors/face shields for eye protection. Wearing a helmet may prevent or reduce the severity of these injuries.

  • Don't ride double. Passengers are frequently injured when riding ATVs. Most ATVs are designed to carry only one person: the driver. Passengers can make ATVs unstable and difficult to control.

  • All ATV riders should take a hands-on safety training course.

  • Stay off public roads. ATVs lack the common safety equipment found on all cars and trucks that are designed for street use. ATV tires are not designed to grip on pavement, so operators should not ride on paved roads.

  • Do not allow children to drive an adult model ATV, which can reach speeds of up to 80 mph. Their size and speed make them too dangerous for kids to drive.

  • Never allow nighttime riding. Flags, reflectors and lights should always be used to make vehicles more visible.

  • Do not drive ATVs while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or even some prescription medicines. Parents should set an example for their children in this regard.

  • If you are buying an ATV, choose one with a seat belt, roll-bar, engine covers and a speed-limiting device.

Types of ATVs:

ATVs come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and power levels. Usually with three or four tires, the motorized cycles are designed for use on a variety of landscapes.

There are four youth ATV categories that vary in speed and motor size. None are made for children younger than 6.

  • ATVs for riders ages 6 and up can travel 10-15 mph.

  • ATVs for riders ages 10 and up and ages 12 and up can travel 15-30 mph.

  • ATVs for riders age 14 and up can travel 20-38 mph.

"We have no idea whether these are safe speeds for kids to travel. The manufacturers haven't done any studies with kids and determined the speeds at which they can safely drive," Dr. Jennissen said.

ATV Laws & Regulations: 

The majority of states have laws about the operation of ATVs. These regulations cover everything from how old the driver must be to helmet use, but vary greatly by state. Yet even states with the most complete sets of rules report ATV-related deaths and injuries each year.

Click here to find the laws about ATV use in your state. 

Parents should supervise their children and enforce safety rules, but just watching your child won't prevent a crash.

"It's very easy for a child to jump on an ATV, push the throttle and make it go," Dr. Jennissen said. "But that doesn't mean that they're able to make the decisions that are necessary to safely operate them."

Additional Information & Resources:

ATV Safety Infographic - 2016 Data
Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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